Mimi Cave | 1hr 57min
In a way, even knowing the title of this film is a spoiler. It isn’t until thirty minutes in that first-time director Mimi Cave transforms the rom-com thriller conventions of Fresh into full-blown horror, announcing loudly with its opening credits what exactly this story is going to be about. Up until then, the horrendous exchanges that Noa has had with men through online dating run an undercurrent of tension beneath the story, though not without some hope that she may eventually meet a more ideal match. Then, one day in a grocery store, she meets Steve. Perhaps he is a little odd in the way he phrases things – “I just don’t eat animals” could simply be a roundabout way of saying he’s a vegetarian – but unlike so many other men, he is funny, charming, and seemingly harmless.
By the time he tells Noa explicitly what his intentions are with her, the heavy foreshadowing has well and truly done its job. Close-ups on his chewing mouth, lingering shots on bared flesh, and his frequent conversations about food only barely conceal his covert cannibalism. Or perhaps industrial cannibalism is a better description, given his day job of kidnapping women, cutting them up, and sending the pieces off to wealthy men with perverse, ravenous appetites.
In his luxury home deep within a forest, he has cells for keeping his captives chained up, an operating theatre for taking pieces of their body, and cold rooms for meat storage. Within these walls, Cave crafts a visually sumptuous atmosphere of red lighting and production design, bleeding through the carpet, décor, and even large art murals against which she stages her actors in arresting compositions. There is a slight Italian giallo influence in this colourfully expressionistic imagery, consistent with the sensationalist gore that Cave savours with macabre delight. This disgust which she so effectively provokes goes beyond visceral reactions to the butchery, but develops further into a revolted moral outrage as she flicks through montages of Steve’s affluent customers dining on their gruesome deliveries.
Within Noa’s disorientated perspective, her prison is a sinister, upside-down dating game that she must play against her captor to stay alive. Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan establish an alluring chemistry between both characters in their strange dynamic, with Noa playing the part of a compliant love interest to slowly earn his trust. Cave’s metaphor for abusive relationships is skilfully constructed in these interactions, particularly when Noa begins to adopt his dark sense of humour and share in his cannibalistic meals to reclaim some power for herself. As for Steve, Cave never lets the terror fade from his character even when he is at his most charming, turning his operating theatre into a funhouse of mirrors that fragment and multiply his intimidating figure all through the space.
From a narrative standpoint, there are several plot beats in Fresh where the Get Out influence encroaches a bit too far in on its own originality, letting it come off as derivative in those overly familiar horror conventions. It is partially this reason which makes the final act feel rushed in its execution, brushing over all the expected developments one might expect from a horror of this ilk while letting a handful of other narrative threads go unresolved. Cave’s immaculate crafting of atmospheric tension through her camerawork and visual design may exceed her ability to craft a wholly original story, but in the end that is all Fresh needs to succeed as a thrillingly feminist tale of subjugation and vengeance, pulling us along in its tight, repulsive grip.
Fresh is currently streaming on Disney Plus.